Is Happiness the Key to Success?

We inherently look for the negative in things. We don’t even realize we are doing it, but we seek the negative out because it provokes us, and catches our attention more-so than the positive. Sometimes we can even interpret something to be negative when really, no negativity is present.

Author and speaker Shawn Achor is an expert on happiness.  In his Ted Talk, “The Happy Secret to Better Work”, Achor uses an example of a prestigious New England boarding school who asked Shawn to present for a special event that they were hosting. The school explained that they were well aware of the positive effects of happiness which was why every year they held a ‘Wellness Week’. What was included in this wellness week was as follows – Monday would be the world’s leading expert to speak about adolescent depression. Tuesday night it’s school violence and bullying. Wednesday night is eating disorders. Thursday night is illicit drug use. And Friday night was undecided but between risky sex or happiness. Shawn’s response was, “I’d be happy to speak at your school, but that’s not a wellness week, that’s a sickness week. You’ve outlined all the negative things that can happen, but not talked about the positive… The absence of disease is not health. Here’s how we get to health: We need to reverse the formula for happiness and success.”

So how do we reverse the formula?

Currently, most people believe that attaining success will bring happiness. Most companies and school systems follow this formula for success and, heck, it is even reinforced by our parents.  According to Achor, this is scientifically broken and backwards. “Every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better one, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change it. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. We’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon, as a society. And that’s because we think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier.”

What we need to know about the brain is that our brain actually functions in the opposite order. If a person’s level of positivity in the present is raised, then their brain experiences a “happiness advantage” – a positive mind performs significantly better than one that is negative, neutral, or stressed.

When your brain is at positive:

  • Your intelligence, creativity and energy levels all rise
  • Business outcomes improve
  • You’re 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed.
  • Sales increase by 37%
  • Doctors are 19% faster and more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis

What’s also assumed is that our external world is predictive of our happiness, but in fact 90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. Achor says, “if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, we can change the way that we can then affect reality. What we found is that only 25% of job successes are predicted by I.Q., 75 percent of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.” See the elements of  Resiliency.

Similar to TRACOM’s findings, Achor says that there are ways that you can train your brain to be able to become more positive. One method Achor describes is demonstrating gratefulness which is also a step in TRACOM’s Adaptive Mindset for Resiliency program. He explains that by jotting down three new things that you’re grateful for, for 21 days in a row, your brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world for the positive rather than the negative.

There are many activities and training that can allow us to rewire our brains, and according to Achor, “And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, what we’ve found is we can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but a real revolution.”

Click here to learn more about NYT Bestselling author Shawn Achor and his company GoodThink.

Click here to learn 6 Ways to Boost You Resilience as featured in the AMA Playbook.